Norfolk Island Pine Care: How To Grow The Araucaria Plant

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The Araucaria plant (Norfolk Island Pine) – a seasonal indoor pine tree – care to guess if it’s really a pine tree?

Many people think of only the poinsettia as the primary “Christmas season” plant.

Potted Araucaria plant - Norfolk Island PinePin

The Araucaria (Araucaria heterophylla), is known more commonly as the Norfolk Island pine tree.

But Norfolk Island Pines are not a true pine at all, but a member of a small family called Araucariaceae.

Norfolk island pines have several common names of:

  • Star pine
  • Triangle tree
  • Monkey puzzle tree
  • Living Christmas tree

… mainly because of its symmetrical shape as a sapling.

However, it does not really belong to the pine tree category and they’re not good for a winter setting.

Norfolk island pines are evergreen trees having a symmetrical growth habit with plants reaching 50′ – 80′ feet tall with vertical trunks and symmetrical branches.

The plant loves direct sunlight, a tropical climate and requires a well-drained soil. Many of the best common house plants have the same requirements.

Although they look like star pine trees, they don’t survive hardiness zones with cold climate.

As much as possible, owners should provide a place with high humidity and a shelter from winter.

Norfolk island pine (Araucaria heterophylla) used as a Christmas decorationPin

Where Did the Common Name  “Norfolk Island Pine” Come From?

The tree’s native habitat is Norfolk Island in the South Pacific, between Australia and New Zealand. There are about 15 species, but only Araucaria heterophylla is grown for indoor use.

The Araucaria was discovered in 1774 on Norfolk Island. Its Latin name comes from the providence in Chile – Arauco.

Norfolk island pines are one of the few conifers that will tolerate lower light conditions. When plants are grown under low light they have a tendency to droop.

Most of the Norfolk pines grown today range in container size from 4″ to 10″ inches with a small amount of larger sizes produced. The plants reach an overall plant height of about 3′ to 5′ feet tall indoors.

Norfolk pines are generally planted as multiples of 3 plants per pot which makes for a fuller and wider plant, but a single straight plant with symmetrical growth is very attractive.

Note: Araucaria tree holds many of its lower branches.

Related: How To Remove Pine Sap from Clothing

Norfolk Island Pine Trees As A Seasonal Indoor Plant

Why talk about this seasonal house plant?

Well, during the holidays is when you will find Norfolk Island Pines at their best. They make for small, very attractive potted Christmas tree.

Many growers have done all the work for you by decorating the Norfolk pine houseplants with red ribbons, foil and even ornaments.

Decorated Araucaraia plant - Norfolk Island Pine - image via CostcoPin
Decorated Araucaria plant – Norfolk Island Pine at Costco

Araucaria can grow from cuttings. I remember about 30 years ago a nursery in Hawaii where you could order a large 6′-8′ foot tall rooted plant and have it shipped directly to you. Today most plants are started and grow from seed.

Most of the indoor Norfolk Pine trees grow outdoors in full sun or very bright light. This produces a compact plant but has a tendency to be a little pale in color. Once plants reach their desired height they are moved into more shade or more bright indirect light to color up.

Decorated Norfolk Island Pine 1902Pin
Decorated Norfolk Island Pine Christmas 1962

Norfolk Pine Problems

A real upside to Norfolk island pine care is they do not have any real pest problems. But note that mealybugs do appear in white patches at times.

If I see a pest I go with a natural pest solution.

But the downside is… they have a weak root system.

Many foliage plants have an abundance of roots with no main taproot. The Norfolk has a main tap root and just does not develop a wide and extensive root system.

For this reason, it is important to keep the plant stable and prevent any extra “wobble”.

After going through sometimes stressful shipping, plants may need to be staked or even restaked. This will help keep them upright and also stabilize any movement which could injure the root system.

Many foliage plants also drop leaves when they experience stress. However, the Norfolk generally does not drop leaves when under stress.

Norfolk Island Pine Araucaria Heterophylla Care And Cultural Issues

  • Branches drooping and tips of the plant are not sturdy – This condition is often an indication of not enough water and/or fertilizer.
  • Needles drying, turning yellow and falling off – Check to make sure the plant is not in a warm location. Move the plant to a cooler location with more light.

Watering & Repotting

It’s best to keep the soil on the dry side, but when you water… water thoroughly and make sure the excess water drains off.

Do not let the Araucaria plant sit in water. Overwatering can cause root rot and everything is downhill from there on. Provide the Norfolk island pine tree with a fast draining potting mix.

I would also recommend staying away from repotting the Norfolk.

The root system can be damaged in the repotting process, extra moisture will be held in the soil, and the plant may be planted too deep. Repotting all leads to root problems. Avoid messing with the root system.

I cannot stress the importance of caring for the root system on the Norfolk to be successful… but it’s not difficult.

  • Do not repot
  • Do not fertilize
  • Stake the plant
  • Keep the soil on the dry side
  • Always use a pot with a drainage hole
  • Give the plant as much bright light as possible
Question: I have a Norfolk Island pine (Araucaria excelsa) seven feet tall. The lower branches are beginning to lose their needles. The size of the tree is not objectionable, the bare trunk is. What can I do?

Answer: Once a Norfolk Island pine has lost its foliage or branches, nothing can be done to restore them. Check the recommendations for soil, exposure, watering and feeding, then move the plant to a deeper container, but set the plant low, and don’t raise the soil level appreciably. The high walls of the container will hide some of the naked trunk.

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